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Pentagram’s Latest: A Construction Wall That’s Actually Beautiful

While the Philadelphia Museum of Art undergoes a three-year expansion, it’s putting some of its favorite pieces outside for the public to enjoy.

The Philadelphia Museum of Art–you know its famous steps from Rocky’s exercise regimen–is currently in the middle of a $525 million transformation anchored by a new Frank Gehry-designed wing, with construction finally breaking ground on March 30. But visitors to the museum don’t have to wait until the wing’s completion date of 2020 to see something new: Pentagram designed a 450-foot fence that’ll display pieces from its collection for the duration of the build-out.

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Construction infrastructure–like walls and scaffolding–is a necessary eyesore. And considering that the museum’s construction wall is, in total, longer than a football field, it could have been pretty ugly without some window dressing. But thanks to Paula Scher and her team at Pentagram, this wall is actually beautiful. About five years ago, Pentagram was hired to create signage for the expansion, which eventually morphed into a larger rebranding project for the museum. After completing the new identity for the museum, they stayed on to consult about special projects. One question that came up was what to do with the huge wall that had to go up around the construction site.

Pentagram’s solution? Turn it into an outdoor gallery. The wall features reproductions of 75 works of art from the museum’s collection. For the next three years, you’ll be able to spy pieces from Barbara Kruger, Andy Warhol, Jasper Johns, Chuck Close, and more, without even going into the museum.

The physical wall itself is unfinished plywood, which is a nod to the crates that fine art is normally packaged in for transportation. Pentagram stenciled the museum’s new logo onto the wood, as well as some of the icons and phrases associated with shipping, like “must lay flat,” and broken glasses to symbolize fragile contents. The pieces are all different sizes, they lean against the wall like actual, three-dimensional canvases waiting to be hung.

“Our goal with the identity design and our ongoing relationship with the Philadelphia Museum of Art has been, and continues to be, to open up the collection to the public,” Scher says. “The construction barricades are going up for three-plus years for the various renovation phases. The museum’s neoclassical architecture and lofty position on a hilltop makes it appear somewhat remote, and the construction barricades won’t help the museum seem accessible.”

The museum plans to rotate the artworks at least twice while the fence is up, hopefully enticing people to come inside. “I hope the passersby discover what a spectacular collection is housed in this wonderful museum and that they are motivated to give it a visit,” Scher says. “I am sure that some of the visitors to the construction wall may be viewing the collection for the first time.”

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This is one wall that earns our seal of approval.

About the author

Diana Budds is a New York–based writer covering design and the built environment.

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